The White House says Iran is helping Russia build a drone manufacturing facility, and continues to ship drones as Russia prolongs its invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration had previously warned of Iran providing drones to Russia, and Friday said Iran has supplied Russia with hundreds of drones since the invasion of Ukraine.
John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said the drones are built in Iran and shipped across the Caspian Sea to Makhachkala, Russia. Recently, they’ve been used to hit Kyiv.
“Now we have information that they are actually actively working with the Russians to build a drone manufacturing capability inside Russia, to shorten that timeline up,” Kirby said.
The U.S. government released satellite imagery of the planned location in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone. The plant could be up and running in early 2024, according to Kirby.
The deepening defense relationship is “worrisome” for Ukraine and stability in the Middle East, according to Kirby.
“This is a defense relationship that is quite worrisome, not just obviously, first and foremost, to the people of Ukraine, but to the region itself, the Middle East, because Iran seeks to gain from this relationship too they want to get advanced Russian military capabilities, including helicopters and fighter aircraft, that will certainly just further destabilize the Middle East region and make everybody’s responsibility to be more vigilant that much more keen,” he said.
Kirby stated Iran previously “announced that it had finalized a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia. Iran is seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia, including attack helicopters, radars, and Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft. In total, Iran is seeking billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment from Russia.”
Meanwhile, Kirby said the U.S. maintains a “level of communications” with Iranians through “appropriate diplomatic channels.”
“I don’t want to get into diplomatic conversations. But I mean, I think you can surmise by the very fact that we made it public today, that we are not bashful about putting pressure on Iran to stop these violations. And they are violations of UN Security Council resolutions,” Kirby said.
The U.S. has previously imposed sanctions related to Iran’s drone supply, and Friday the U.S. government issued an advisory that notified the private industry about Iran’s procurement process.
The advisory said recovered drones in Ukraine show Iran has used parts from suppliers from other countries. According to the advisory, Iran has sought electronics, navigation and control equipment and components.
The advisory states: “Industry should be aware of its compliance obligations due to the threat posed by the extensive overseas network of procurement agents, front companies, suppliers, and intermediaries Iran uses to obtain UAV (drone) components, all of which employ a variety of methods to evade export controls and sanctions. Industry should exercise extra vigilance due to the ubiquitous nature of many of the items, as Iran utilizes commercial-grade components in its weapons.”
Ukraine has recently seen intensified fighting, amid speculation about a counteroffensive.
This week, Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of blowing up a dam in southern Ukraine. It led to massive flooding forcing residents to flee, as well as concerns about drinking water and for a nuclear power plant that draws its cooling water from the reservoir. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia continued shelling regions that were flooded, and evacuation points.
U.S. officials have not said who is responsible for the dam’s damage, but have noted Russia’s occupation of the dam.
“Just in general, Russia clearly bears responsibility for all the death and destruction that they’ve caused inside Ukraine, including down in southern Ukraine,” Kirby said.
The U.S. provided humanitarian support in the wake of the humanitarian crisis.
“USAID and our partners on the ground, we’re right there within hours of the breach, providing transportation to help people get out of harm’s way. Boats, rescue gear, water purification equipment and water itself,” said Kirby.
But as the war carries on, the U.S. and its partners maintain a focus on defense support for Ukraine.
On Friday, the Department of Defense announced another security package of $2.1 billion, including air defense and ammunition capabilities, to be procured.
“Missiles for Patriots and other air defense systems, strengthening our defenses on the ground, enhancing the strength of all our soldiers. Thank you, Mr. President Biden, thank you to both parties of Congress and to all Americans who want freedom to win as much as Ukrainians do,” said Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
More security assistance is expected ahead as well.
“What you’ll see is very similar to what you’ve seen in the last several packages, the kinds of capabilities that we know they’re going to need in the fighting that they’re doing right now. And in the fighting that’s to come in the weeks ahead, air defense, artillery ammunition, armored vehicles, breaching equipment, obstacle clearing equipment, the kinds of things that they’re really going to need for what we term as combined arms maneuver,” Kirby said.